Too Neurotic for a Massage

From full moon parties to ping pong shows, Thailand’s notorious for its tourist-catered hedonism. Even travellers who aren’t comfortable in bucket bars can gorge on rich food and laze on sublime beaches, indulging in at least two of the seven deadly sins.

The country is famed for its massages, particularly—duh—Thai style. Thai massages follow a set sequence and involve the masseuse arranging the patron into various positions, sort of like assisted yoga with kneading.

So many types of massage! (Photo: Outpost/John Price)

And, yes, many of them do offer happy endings to male patrons—and occasionally female, as a backpacker friend of mine can attest. In Chiang Mai, a masseuse whispered to our happily married videographer that she’d “rub anywhere” for a fee.

Then there are fish spas where patrons dunk their feet into a tank filled with ravenous fingerlings that devour their dead skin in a feeding frenzy. Everyone else on the Tan Your Mind team was thrilled by the novelty, but I found it creepy in a Final-Destination-scene-waiting-to-happen sort of way. I can’t in good conscience support any practice that encourages another species to develop a taste for human flesh—and also really, really tickles.

Then again, I’m not especially comfortable with Thai massages either, despite the merciful lack of toe nibbling—though I’m sure I could get that for a fee, too. Call me paranoid, but I swear the masseuses talk about me.

This is what fish eating the dead skin off your feet looks like. (Photo: Outpost/John Price)

“You’re paranoid,” said Lena as we changed into the loose pajamas provided by the massage parlor and lay down on our respective beds. “I’m sure they’re gossiping about their boyfriends or whatever.”

“They’re probably doing that too—but you can hear the difference.”

She rolled her eyes as the masseuses entered the room and shut the curtains. As Lena predicted, their chatter was airy and giggly as they poked and prodded, and I closed my eyes in a trusting doze. Suddenly, my masseuse paused mid-sentence, then whispered something in a low tone. My eyelids snapped open. What was that about? Did she find a questionable mole? Do I have a genitalia-shaped birthmark I’m unaware of?

Lena’s masseuse mmm’d in agreement, and the two were quiet for a moment before resuming their conversation. A few minutes later, however, it happened again. These pajamas make her butt look big, I visualized my masseuse saying.

Lena and Sue, getting rubbed down at a Thai massage parlour. (Photo: Outpost/John Price)

I don’t think it’s the pajamas, Lena’s masseuse replied in my imagined scenario. She must be American.

Nah, Americans tend to have beautiful teeth. She’s probably British.

Half an hour later, Lena and I were changing back into our street clothes. “Did you hear that? She said my butt looked big!” I tugged on my jean shorts self-consciously.

“Since when do you speak Thai? They were probably talking about your scarification. Or your dreadlocks. Or that you have ‘farang’ tattooed onto your foot.”

“Does my scarification make my butt look big?” I wondered.

The pained grin of mental anguish. (Photo: Outpost/John Price)

“You’re too high-strung for a massage,” Lena said, pausing. “There’s something ironic about that.”

All right, so maybe I am too suspicious of carnivorous fish and judgmental masseuses to fully enjoy all of Thailand’s luxuries. But if the streets ever flood during the rainy season and the fingerlings escape, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

On the upside, all the partially consumed corpses will have smooth, callous-free feet.